The Big Quit. The Great Resignation. Whatever you want to call it, it’s here and it’s real. And the hospitality industry has been hit harder than just about any other industry out there.
With COVID-19 as the catalyst, and a variety of other factors adding momentum — like government funding and relief, additional virtual training opportunities, and uncertainty for employees — the hospitality industry is facing unprecedented labor shortages. This is especially true for hotels, from small boutiques all the way up to global chains.
In the early days of the pandemic, hospitality was one of the most impacted industries. Layoffs and furloughs became commonplace as stay at home orders were in effect and governments restricted travel. But, as the world begins to reopen and travel is top-of-mind, the industry is struggling to re-hire or even retain the staff they have. International tourism increased by 130% in January 2022 compared to the previous year. But the labor shortage is only getting worse. World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) predicts the US will see a shortfall of 480,000 jobs this year. WTTC warned that the problem of staff shortages, even if it doesn’t stay at this extreme level, experts say the industry face labor shortages well beyond 2022.
According to a recent poll of 13,000 job seekers, more than half of U.S. hospitality wouldn’t go back to their jobs. Even more alarming, over a third said they aren't even considering reentering the industry. For hotel staff (and employees in many industries), the pandemic shone a light on the areas where they were dissatisfied and it gave them a real opportunity, forced or otherwise, to reflect.
Hospitality workers who are switching industries are doing so for: different work settings (52%), higher pay (45%), better benefits (29%), more schedule flexibility (19%) and remote work opportunities (16%). Looking at this problem from a systemic perspective, it seems it’s time for the hospitality industry to take a new approach to how they deliver their services — one that prioritizes investment in a new generation of hospitality employees and adopts technologies that drive efficiency while still delivering exceptional services. So what can hotels do as they look to attract, empower and retain great people?
1. Be a company worth working for
With the tables turning, and employees in the decision-making seat, hotels will need to stand out to applicants more than ever. Your property has a brand. You may even have a mission statement and a set of company values. This is a great time to take a step back and consider how these values are actually showing up in what you do every day. By creating a values-based work environment you’ll not only attract both the next generation of staff, you’ll also impact the guest experience.
One great opportunity to show your values is in your company culture. In the wake of the pandemic, employees are being very selective about where they spend their working hours. Some are missing the social and community aspects of the pre-COVID world. You can foster this sense of community among your team by creating a space for it. Plan safe social events to bring your team back together, make team meals a tradition, and celebrate employee milestones as a group.
Of course when push comes to shove, your reputation for compensation plays a huge role in being able to attract and hire. As the labor shortage places the power back with employees, it’s time for hospitality brands to increase wages, but financial wellness doesn’t end there. Coming out of the pandemic, Millennials and Gen Z workers want to set themselves up for financial security. Offering 401k matching or other retirement savings support and financial counseling can go just as far as money itself and show your staff that you care about their long-term happiness.
2. Invest in your staff
A great way to attract people who are more likely to stick around long-term is with professional development opportunities and training. Your best bet at making your employees feel invested in your company, after all, is to invest in them first.
This could be through a mentorship program, where new staff is paired with more experienced team members. Not only is it a great training opportunity, it also creates camaraderie and gives employees someone they can share victories with. Be transparent about professional development. Employees want to know how they can progress from one job to another, and being clear about mobility opportunities can help with that.
It could also look like a more structured training program, based on skills and areas they’ve already identified they’re interested in. There’s a ton of online courses you can offer to your staff as well, if budgets for formal training aren’t possible. As hospitality brands see virtual learning pull talent away from their industry, they can get ahead of the trend and use these same platforms and tools to further their team’s careers.
3. Give great perks and benefits
A lack of benefits was one of the biggest reasons listed by hotel staff who won’t be returning to their jobs. It may be time to reassess and revisit your benefits package to include traditional benefits like health and dental coverage for part-time and hourly staff as well. As other industries rewrite the standards for paid sick days, personal days and vacation days, consider what you can offer your entire staff. The risk of getting sick and not being able to work has loomed over the heads of hospitality staff that don’t have medical benefits or sick coverage throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Offering greater stability to your full team can make the industry feel far more supportive and realistic as a lifelong career option.
Outside of the typical benefits, there are some creative perks you can include, like access to great hotel amenities on their day off. Maybe that’s a day at the on-site spa, a friends and family rate at your properties, unlimited gym access, special VIP menu preview tastings or access to tech platforms, like PressReader, where they can read their favorite magazines. Many of these things come as virtually no cost to your property — and the opportunity cost of keeping great people is huge.
4. Create (online) connection
Speaking of which, this is a perfect time to upgrade your technology to meet the expectations (and speed and connectivity) of today’s younger workforce. Tools like Slack, Zoom and Google Drive not only allow for better efficiency with internal communication, they also make it easier to meet your employees where they already are: online.
While you’re at it, identify any tech advances you make in your hotel that will also benefit your guests. Chatbots that alleviate your staff of mundane and repetitive work, also give guests faster responses. And mobile check-in apps free up your team to focus on higher impact work while removing friction for your visitors. COVID-19 drove every interaction online and your guests have new expectations when it comes to a seamless (and safe) hotel experience.
Some technology to consider including in your tech stack:
- A mobile-first website with automated messages and personalized offers
- A mobile check-in app or a kiosk for self-check-in to streamline operations and reduce physical touchpoints
- A mobile app and functionalities for in-room requests such as housekeeping or room service
- Smart room technology, with features on tablet or mobile devices that allow guests to access subscriptions like PressReader or Netflix, and even control heat in their room.
5. Improve work/life balance
We’ve heard about this one for years, but the way this pandemic changed the way we work and live gave it an even greater meaning.
With so many companies and industries going fully remote — and thriving in a more flexible format — many hotel staff are questioning their options post-pandemic. In order to keep them engaged in the industry, it’s essential to provide greater flexibility. If not, many will leap into career path changes with the promise of a work-from-anywhere lifestyle.
For the hospitality industry to compete for the same great people, hotel leaders will need to get creative in how they can replicate these perks in a business that requires a physical presence. Think about ways you can offer your staff more options when it comes to location, hours and communication methods to satisfy some of these needs.
Even as travel and tourism comes back online, it remains a uniquely challenging time for anyone in the industry. But, if COVID-19 has shown us anything, it's that we have the ability to adapt. This is a great opportunity for hotels of all sizes, anywhere in the world, to make changes that will allow them to retain and attract great people. In fact, with so many people thinking more intentionally about their workplace, it may be the best time to find the right people.